Text and Interview: Maia Canter
Photography: Jasper Briggs
Art Direction: Alexandra Marzella
Ally is busy. Although our bedrooms are separated by just one wall, we rarely see each other for much more than a moment. Most know her as Alexandra Marzella, feminist, sex-positive artist and nodel (an unsigned model, or “not a model” ㅡ you may have seen her in cK one ads or on the displays at your local Sephora), or as @artwerk6666, a notorious pseudo-celebrity on Instagram (she’s gotten her account deleted over a dozen times for refusing to adhere to their community guidelines regarding nudity ㅡ her current account is @artits6666). I know her as Ally, my close friend, my roommate, my landlord, and a hustler with huge dreams.
She graduated from Rhode Island School of Design three years ago, where she studied apparel design. But since graduating and moving to Brooklyn, she has been investing her energy into creating art in various forms.
Her first real performance was at Art Basel in Miami earlier this year, and her most recent was with her friend, Mike Bailey Gates, (of Mike & Claire) last month at Auto Body, curated by India Salvor Menuez in Bellport, NY.
She has participated in a series of group shows in and around New York City, and is looking forward to participating in a new show called “That Used To Be Us” at Haw Contemporary in Kansas City, MO, curated by Carrie Riehl.
Among other projects, she has also been working on an ongoing “Shower Series”, where she aims to photograph people of all ages, races, genders and sizes in the shower.
A compassionate, competitive and creative being, Ally is absolutely full of ideas. The other night, we had a chance to sit down and talk about some of her ideas, projects, and beliefs, so I decided to hit record.
Part I – On Jealousy, Envy, Insecurity, and Self-Acceptance in Marzella’s Art
I think the message you’re sending with your Instagram and a lot of your art is, “Accept your body for what it is, love yourself.” Sometimes you’ll post pictures of yourself in a sexy pose, but the vast majority of the time, you’re trying not to be traditionally hot.
Yet people still get angry when they see your pictures. I see two groups: those who are upset at the fact that your images have almost come to represent “selfie culture”, when in reality you only represent the most visible cultural group that participates in that culture. Then there is the group who is mad because you preach body positivity, but they assume that because of your “traditionally beautiful” (white, skinny) form, body positivity must come easily to you, so your affirmations come off inauthentic.
Do you feel that since you started on Instagram and have received these critiques, you have changed your style or censored yourself in any way?
I was very oblivious to ever making people feel bad about themselves. This isn’t something people say that often. But I’m very willing to admit when I’m jealous of someone. I’m jealous of everyone. Everyone seems to have their shit a bit more together than me, everyone’s better at not procrastinating their entire life away, but ultimately, the ability to admit jealousy is such a strength. Because when you admit to someone that you’re jealous of them they almost always reassure you not to be.
I recently learned that jealousy and envy are two different things. Envy is when you want what someone has, jealousy is when you’re afraid of someone taking what you have. I guess people mainly feel envious toward you, but maybe you feel both toward other people.
I guess when I speak about jealousy, it’s an overarching umbrella. You could separate it into envy, for me jealousy includes envy.
I find myself being jealous on all different levels, sometimes to the point where it gets down in my gut, changes my whole mood and I get upset. Looking at one person’s Instagram, I look at their art and I go, “Damnit, why haven’t I made a more substantial body of work that’s more cohesive like that?” Why is that? Because I have a commitment fear. I have so many ideas, I can’t possibly imagine picking one or two of them, so I do nothing a lot of time. It’s a procrastination thing, which is also a fear of not being good enough. Most people who are smart and creative, if you’re not afraid it’s almost like you’re not that good. If you’re not terrified to put your work out there, to really be seen and heard and to feel it’s actually worth other people experiencing or even you experiencing… Nothing I’ve ever put out has felt right. There is no perfect, but I’m still waiting for the day where I’m like, “Damn, that was the best I could have done in that situation.”
I’m very willing to admit when I’m jealous of someone. I’m jealous of everyone.
I wonder if that ever really comes for any artist. Do your friends who are also artists ever feel that?
I think they do sometimes. I think you also might become better at accepting things, as you gain more experience. I’ve definitely heard people say, “The first time I did this, was the first time I’ve ever felt really good about something I’ve made. I felt really accomplished and fulfilled with something I’d done.” Whereas there’s not really anything I’ve done where I feel really fulfilled. It might be momentarily fulfilling, like, I might feel like “Oh yeah, that was great”, but a week or two passes or a year and I look back and like, that was shit. You know?
There’s a motivation to be had in studying other people, but for me personally, I’m very easily demotivated. For instance, I went to a performance by FlucT, Sigrid [Lauren] and Monica [Mirabile]. Their performance was beautiful, it was wonderful, it was emotional, it was amazing. I was walking home afterwards and I was feeling very inspired by it, but almost immediately upon leaving the venue it slowly started internalizing into this weird series of insecurities.
While I was thinking about how good their performance was, I was thinking about how I haven’t done much. And how this is one of hundreds of performances they’ve done, and I have yet to do ten. I think ultimately when it comes to people hating each other, hating themselves, being jealous of others, it comes down to comparing yourself to other people.
A lot of times I feel best about my work when I am not aware of other work it’s similar to. I look at other people’s work and I get extremely inspired, but at the same time, extremely demotivated. So for me, comparing myself to other people in any way is one of the biggest weapons against myself. I encourage young people to never do that! It’s amazing that some people don’t. Some people were raised right, their genetics are right, or they’ve lived enough past lives where they have a much easier time just not doing those things.
I guess it’s just our nature to compare ourselves to other humans.
It’s also our nature to fight, to be jealous. I think jealousy and envy are very real things that everyone should admit to, be aware of and communicate about, but ultimately, I don’t think they are positive things. I think they are seriously negative things. And I think the goal is to be aware of it but to try to work toward letting go of it. Not trying to change or fix it, just letting go of it.
I think it will be nice for people who might be envious or jealous of you to hear that you get jealous, too. What do you do to make yourself feel better when you feel jealous of someone?
I don’t! First of all, I’m a little more humble than that. I really don’t think mad people look at my Instagram and are jealous of me. I actually think people look at my Instagram and admire something, or we’re friends, or there’s an aesthetic they like. On the other hand, a lot of girls have told me they’re inspired by me and I’ve made them feel better about their bodies. Which is ideal, but somewhat crazy, because if I have a traditionally cute body you’d think that girls with untraditionally cute bodies might unfollow me.
And some do. But more often I get, “You empower me, you inspire me, you make me feel like I want to be naked more, I feel more confident in my skin”. It’s interesting to me that I get both sides of the spectrum.
What’s the difference to you between being inspired by someone’s work or appearance and being jealous of it?
Well, you can also be both simultaneously. Which is actually more upsetting than just being jealous.
Inspired is almost a different word for envy – if you’re inspired, you want what they have.
Or it motivates you to do something of your own, or it shows you an example of a parallel goal.
I’d like to create something almost tangible, that the audience can touch.
I guess inspired has a much more positive connotation. It implies being encouraged to do something of your own, as opposed to envy which implies stewing in your bitterness.
Some people are really good at being inspired. They see something they want to be or achieve or obtain and they work hard over a period of time to obtain those things. I have very big goals and dreams, but I haven’t learned how to pick something and stick to it and work on it over time. I like immediate gratification, I tend to think that Rome can be built in a day. But that’s never the case. Some people are just better with that. So as far as being inspired, I tend to let that turn into jealousy. I’m super jealous of other people all the time, but I don’t know how I deal with it.
Maybe the answer is actively practicing self-love. We might not ever stop comparing ourselves to others but if in our comparisons, we can lift ourselves up instead of putting ourselves down…
It’s because we compare ourselves to others. If you can take yourself out of the context of society for enough time to really learn to appreciate the incredible and fascinating machine that you are, you should be able to love yourself completely no matter what insecurities you hold onto. They’ll always pop back up, but you can learn to not let exterior opinions, comparisons and feelings of jealousy and envy take over. You can learn to remember to love yourself always.
I have a theory that if someone hated their nose, but were to look at and consider it long enough, they would eventually love it. It’s the pressure of the rest of the world that cultivates us to hate ourselves.
Without those societal standards, there’s nothing to compare it to. If it’s a nose, and you can smell things with it, it’s enough.
Same thing with my skin. I’ll look at it, like if I know my skin is bad that day or if I have a pimple and I’m picking it, every once in a while I’ll check it in the mirror to reassure myself. Because I am so inside myself that I make things out to be worse than they are. Even if I see huge red pimples and cysts all over my face, if I can detach from myself, my skin that I’m attached to, and look at it as if anyone else was looking at me, it’s like, actually, I can see right past my acne, I am still a beautiful person, people like me because of my personality and not the way I look.
PART TWO – What’s Next For Ally
Other than your Shower Series, do you have any ongoing projects you have in mind or things you want to do, even something that’s a huge dream?
I have a solo show that I’ve been working on a little bit. I haven’t put nearly enough work into it, so I should probably step on it if I want anything to come of that, but then I’m just trying to work more on my art practice in general. Trying to focus more on a few things. I want to do more performance which I’ve been working on, more photography, digital art, fine art to some extent, and movement.
Do you see that as distinct from your performance art?
It can go hand in hand with performance. I tend to be physical in my performance, but yes, also in general too.
Other articles written about you have focused on your relationship with your sugar daddy. Do you still identify as a “sugar baby”?
It’s so funny. I am a sugar baby, but I don’t really consider myself to be a typical sugar baby. I can still say I’m a sex worker, and I am, but I haven’t really been an active participant in the sex work industry for about a year now.
Why is that?
My non-sexual sugar daddy prefers I don’t do other sex work as long as we have a relationship. The main reasons I have pursued sex work is to make money and a genuine interest in the industry I’ve had since I was very young. It has and does overlap with my art career. However, sex and art go hand in hand and I feel I’ve never quite melded the two as successfully as I’d like to. As of now I don’t feel the need to. But it changes from month to month! If you had talked to me a month ago, I might have said something different.
And you did! That’s good. I think it’s cool we’re documenting where you’re at right now.
This conversation makes me think of this performance piece I’d like to do. Last night, I was trying to envision a totally stream of consciousness performance piece. Not just improvisation but something extremely organic. I’d like to create something almost tangible, that the audience can touch. Interaction with the audience is something I want to do a lot more. I like the idea of using the audience, or stimulating them somehow.